Although the area was caught in a “polar vortex,” a little piece of paradise can be found at the HUB-Robeson Center at Penn State.
Two tropical fish tanks — one 500 gallons and the other 150 gallons — are kept at the ground level of the HUB.
The tanks entertain many Penn State passers-by daily, and thousands more outside visitors each year, said Sanjay Joshi, professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering, who oversees the saltwater tanks. Consultant Bill Straka also helps manage them.
“We live in a land-locked state,” Joshi said. “It’s the place where people can say, ‘meet me at the aquarium,’ and they know where to go.”
On this day, clownfish circled a reef with yellow tang and blue surgeonfish as students Jordyn Powers and Nicole Pollack took a break from studying.
“We kind of like heading to the HUB, grabbing something to eat or to study and check it out,” Powers said. “You don’t see these kinds of things everywhere unless you’re in the tropics.”
The aquariums feature 30 fish species that are native to the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii, the Philippines and Fiji, Joshi said.
The reef grew from a small fragment that was put in the tank just after it was installed. The salt water is made from a mixture called “Instant Ocean” that combined a specific salt with water made through reverse osmosis, Joshi said.
Joshi, Straka and a group of student volunteers maintain the tanks. Joshi said that not all of the student volunteers are marine biology students.
Two students work daily to feed the fish, clean the tanks and make sure all machinery is working properly.
Penn State graduate Andrew Cecere and junior Danielle Pierone have both worked at the aquarium for about three years, and are members of the Penn State Marine Science Society.
Often working together, the two make sure the water temperature is at a consistent 78 degrees, check for water quality and feed the fish.
If there is a malfunction in the evening, the aquarium is hooked up to a computer system that will alert Joshi at home.
Joshi said visitors often make a reference to the Disney/Pixar movie “Finding Nemo.”
“You don’t have to be an expert to identify the fish, but if someone says ‘Nemo,’ then everyone knows what you’re talking about,” Joshi said.
Dylan Johnson, 8, of Ferguson Township, said the aquarium’s inhabitants remind him of the movie’s main characters.
“All the fish look like Nemo and Dory,” he said.
His mother, Joni Johnson, said she takes Dylan to the aquarium during snow days if the roads are clear.
“It’s educational and he just loves it,” Johnson said. “It gets us out of the house and really piques his interest.”
The aquarium display was a gift from the Class of 1999. Joshi has overseen the space since then, and said it is both an attraction and educational tool.
Several GeoScience classes use the aquarium for labs by testing the water and studying the fish, Joshi said.
Pierone said workers hope to make the space more interactive by adding a touch-pad screen that could give information about the aquarium and the fish, or post a chart that identifies the subjects in the tanks.
“It’s so much more than just an aquarium,” Cecere said. “We use it for so many things and it gets a real positive reception from university students and the public.”
— Britney Milazzo